Friday, April 3, 2015

Product Review: Duke 209 Fountain Pen with Fude Nib

4/3/15 Sailor Jentle Doyou ink, Duke 209 fude pen, Canson XL 140 lb. paper
A few weeks ago Parka Blogs wrote a comparison video review of no less than nine fountain pens with fude nibs. (Actually it’s only seven pens, since three have the identical nib.) I mentioned in the finale of my Epic Pen Search and Discovery series that I had tried nearly all of the same nibs, and interestingly, Teoh Yi Chie and I had come to opposite conclusions. (To each his own, especially where sketching pens are concerned!)

Duke 209 fountain pen with fude nib
Lines made with Duke 209 fude nib
The one fude nib I had yet to try was from Duke. I wasn’t interested in the humongous Duke 551 Confucius model, which has a range of particularly broad strokes. But the more conventional Duke 209 piqued my curiosity. I didn’t have high expectations; I’d already been disappointed more than once by Chinese fude nib pens. But “completist” that I am, I couldn’t resist trying the Duke, just so that I would know I had used them all. For $9 on e-Bay, the price was right, too.

The pen body’s girth is more slender than I like in a fountain pen – my preference is that of the slightly heavier and stouter Platinum 3776 Century – but it’s nicely balanced. It has a clean matte finish that I like, both in texture and appearance. But after posting the cap only once, the matte surface became a bit scratched and marred. (No telling how bad it will look with regular posting.) The cap does post securely, however, and that’s mission-critical for me.

The Duke fude nib curves gradually . . . 
The first thing visibly noticeable about the nib is that it is gradually curved rather than bent (the way my cheap Sailor “calligraphy” fude nib is). Teoh Yi Chie points out that this makes the Duke smoother and less likely to railroad (which can happen when the Sailor nib is angled too flat, and the feed’s edge hits the paper). I haven’t had the railroading issue with my old Sailor, but I knew from trying out the Sailor with the 21kt gold fude nib, which is similarly curved rather than bent, that the curve does make that transition smoother, so I was very curious about how the Duke would perform. I filled the Duke’s converter with Sailor Jentle Doyou ink and took it to Zoka Coffee for a spin.

. . . while the Sailor "calligraphy" fude nib is bent sharply.
After one sketch, I was already impressed by its smoothness and easy transition from its thinnest to thickest strokes. Turned upside-down, the nib is as fine as my Sailor, but at its broadest, it might be slightly broader – a terrific, versatile range.

By the middle of my second sketch, my heart was thudding: With a nib as good as the Sailor’s – possibly even better because of that gradual curve – and a securely posting cap, could I have ended my Epic Search one pen too soon? Could this $9 Duke ordered on eBay be my real grail? But if it is – what of the 21kt gold Sailor fude already being made for me in Hiroshima? Is my carefully examined investment nothing but a foolish travesty??

With these thoughts spinning through my head, I set the uncapped pen down and paused to sip my coffee and munch a few bites of scone. A moment later, I picked up the pen to continue – and the backside of the tip was dry. I had to scribble around a bit to get the ink flowing again. (Hmmm, that’s odd. . . I put my uncapped pens down for a moment all the time, and they never go dry in such a short time.)
4/3/15 Sailor Jentle Doyou ink, Duke 209 fude pen

By this time, I was ready to put some shading on part of the sketch, so I pulled out my waterbrush. At this stage of a sketch, my habit is to transfer the uncapped pen to my right hand while using the waterbrush with my left, and when I need a bit more ink, I switch back again. I like to keep both instruments handy and uncapped. I do this so routinely with my old Sailor and all my pens that I don’t even think about it. What I discovered about the Duke is that in the short time that I had been applying water, the nib had gone dry again.

A-ha! A flaw – a rather large one. Not a fatal one – I could probably learn to get used to and put up with the quick dry-out if it means using that wonderfully smooth fude nib. But with a flaw like that, it’s definitely not the grail.


Incidentally, you know from my other fountain pen reviews that, unlike some bloggers, I don’t discuss or photograph the packaging that a pen comes in. (I guess for some people, the whole presentation is important. I usually couldn’t care less what the box looks like; several recent pen purchases from eBay and Amazon have come in nothing more than bubble wrap.) In the case of this Duke, however, I have to show it because it’s so strange. What does Jackson Pollock have to do with a fude fountain pen? Branding on the box includes the words, “Jackson Pollock USA 1919.” Curious, I Googled those words as well as “Jackson Pollock fountain pen” to see if it was a pen distributor or somehow otherwise related to pens, but nothing came up. Interestingly, the box I received is not the same as the one pictured on eBay of the product I ordered. I’m guessing the box was swapped out by the reseller.
The Duke pen's "Jackson Pollock" box.

P.S. I’ve used Sailor Doyou ink sporadically since I bought it several months ago, but mostly for writing, not sketching. It’s a much darker, cooler brown than Diamine Chocolate Brown, which has been my favorite sketching brown ink for a long time. That may be about to change – I love Sailor Doyou! It goes on nearly black, then washes beautifully to a rich, velvety shade. 

Updated 4/25/15: The Duke 209 seems to have almost no idle-time tolerance at all. After a day or two without using it, it's dry as a bone, and no amount of scribbling can get it going again.

Updated 4/16/16: A year later, I got in the mood to give this pen another chance. Maybe with a different ink, the idle-time and drying-out issues would improve. I'd forgotten about the other reason I had stopped using it the first time: It leaks to high heaven! What a mess! It's going in the trash.

4/3/15 Sailor Jentle Doyou ink, Duke 209 fude pen


  1. Looked like you had a nice bargain pen there for a minute, until it started drying out. Good thing you found out!!

  2. I hate pens that dry up quickly. They're simply not useful tools. Any chance this problem is related to the ink? Have you used it in your Sailor?

    I'm sure glad you're doing all this pen buying/trying. I seem in a rut. I'm so happy with my Pilot Falcon and Sailor fude that I rarely use anything else, though I still have Pilot Preras filled with other colors. I'm thinking about buying another Falcon actually. But you know me, I love fine lines :-)

    1. That's a good question about the ink, Larry. I've used the same ink with both my Sailor fude for sketching and a Pilot Prera for writing with no dry-out problem, so I don't think that's it. It's a shame about the Duke, because if it weren't for that issue, the nib is fantastic!

  3. I bought one of these Duke 209 pens and I incorrectly filled it with Indian ink! The strokes were skipping really badly so I researched, found out I had the wrong ink and gave it a thorough clean the next day. I've now used De Atramentis ink which works great in my Lany but horribly in the Duke - same skipping lines. Any ideas? Thanks!

    1. Hmmm, I have 2 thoughts. One is that some particles of India ink are still in there, clogging it a bit (so you could try flushing it more thoroughly with something like the pen cleaner sold at Goulet Pens. But more likely, the Duke would be skipping like this no matter what kind of ink you used. The problem is that many of these low-cost pens from China have no quality control. Sometimes you get a great one, and another time, a terrible one. As you read in my post, at first my Duke seemed fantastic, but then it dried out almost immediately, and after that it started leaking terribly! I loved the nib on it, but I can't recommend this pen.

    2. Do you think the nib could be popped on a different body?

    3. Maybe, but I don't think it would be worth the time and effort.

  4. I bought Duke 209 from Amazon and am absolutely loving it. I'm currently using Noodlers Lexington Gray and can pick it up days later from my last drawing session with no issues. I'm wondering if you eBay seller sent you a "second"?


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